Friday, 28 December 2012



How can it fail? We all like a bit of The Raid, don't we? And we all like a bit of the old rape and sadistic misogynistic abuse, right? And of course we absolutely love a good dose of zombie contagion and undead apocalypse and "shoot 'em in the head" action, yeah? Put them together and it's gonna be a classic! Er, no. Thing is, I like cottage pie, I like jelly and I like Maltesers - but crucially not at the same time. Zombie movies, sleazy exploitation and violent cop thrillers are fine individually, but lumped together on the same plate the result is an unpalatable and frankly nauseating mess.

Zombie 108 (actually called just Z108: Abandoned City on the screen, but that's not what it says on the box - oh, for a little consistency in these matters) starts off in usual zomb fashion with a montage of shrieking headlines detailing some kind of biological experiment which goes wrong and gets loose under the opening credits, followed by a woman searching for her toddler daughter in the deserted streets of Taiwan and supermarkets and being pursued by the ravenous hordes. They're saved at the last moment by a passing motorist - but he turns out to be a drooling rapist abusing women in his basement. Meanwhile SWAT teams have been drafted in to evacuate the civilians from District 108, but come under fire from the oblivious drug gangs who prove just as dangerous as the zombies....

Either the cops vs gangsters thriller or the gory zombie movie would have been fine, and you could probably get away with mixing the two together (La Horde, anyone?), but the gratuitous rape and humiliation footage feels seriously out of place and far too much time is devoted to it, even in a film that in total only runs for 83 minutes. It's an absurd contrivance that out of the whole of the city, everyone just happens to converge on the same apartment where Pervert (that's how he's listed in the closing credits) has his squalid sex dungeon, and it's also absurd that Pervert has somehow managed to corral some zombies together to work the dynamo to keep his electricity going when it's clear the city's power hasn't been cut off.

So all the fair to good work in realising a zombie Armageddon (a CGI-enhanced one to boot) is undone by cheap torture porn sleaze and plot idiocies, including the sudden inclusion of a Japanese serial killer for absolutely no good reason. Taiwan's first zombie film ends up is a botch that's trying to be three entirely different movies bolted together, and it just doesn't work.



Thursday, 27 December 2012



After the generally dismal Don't Open Till Christmas, Christmas Evil and Silent Night, Deadly Night, here's another seasonal slasher in which a maniac in a Father Christmas costume hacks his way through a generic selection box of morons, bimbettes and ineffectual authority figures while logic, common sense and reason have not just taken the festive season off but have stolen a car, robbed a liquor store and are headed for Mexico. Not just notable for being the sole feature directing credit for David Hess, star of two despicable and genuinely nasty video nasties (Last House On The Left and The House On The Edge Of The Park) and boasting a script by Alex Rebar, The Incredible Melting Man himself, To All A Goodnight is also one of the grottiest, dullest and stupidest teen slasher movies of the subgenre's Golden Age you will ever see.

Five girls have to remain at their elite finishing school over the Christmas holidays with only the cook and the simpleton gardener to keep an eye on them - but the girls have arranged to smuggle in a few boys for a secret party. Meanwhile a mad killer has donned a Santa suit for absolutely no reason at all, and is bumping them off one by one and burying them in the grounds. Who could it be? It couldn't possibly have anything to do with the pre-credits sequence in which a young girl died at the Christmas party two years earlier, could it? The film is precisely halfway through before the first body is discovered, at which point the teens continue to behave exactly as before - sex and beer - despite the fact that half their number have mysteriously disappeared and despite knowing there's a homicidal axe-wielding psychopath outside.

There's one slight surprise at the end when a second killer Father Christmas turns up, but by that point it wouldn't have surprised me if they'd been aliens. Why don't the police just take everyone away from the scene once the first body is discovered? Did the killer(s) figure on the boys turning up, and thus have to dig several extra graves in the garden in the middle of the night (while wearing a Santa suit)? Why didn't this all happen last Christmas? Why does nobody ever turn a light on when wandering the house in the middle of the night?

And who gives a toss? Even by the standards of the cheap 1980s teenkill movie it's badly acted and boring as hell - and that's not just when set against slasher pinnacles of the period like the first few Friday The 13th and Halloween movies, that's when up against tedious drek like Unhinged and Silent Scream and Madman and Death Screams. The Europeans are the only people who've pulled off killer Santa movies with Rare Exports and Sint. You might spot Mark Shostrom (spelled wrong) listed in the end credits for special makeup effects, along with Joel Soisson, now a producer and director of numerous horror franchise sequels but back in 1980 he was just billed as Boom Operator. Small wonder that there's no UK distribution for this rubbish: this is another tatty obscurity which some kind but misguided soul has uploaded onto YouTube. Thanks so much for that, it's just what I've always wanted.


Monday, 24 December 2012



It's oddly refreshing to find a European horror movie set in a convent full of possessed nuns where there's nary a nipple and not a pube to be seen from start to finish. The only bare boobs to be seen are on one nun who's already dead and being prepared for embalming; otherwise everyone thankfully keeps their kit on at all times. Don't misunderstand: I'm in favour of naked women bouncing around the screen as much as anyone, but I usually want a bit more reason for it than "hey, guys, clock the norks on that". Even though it's directed (pseudonymously) by Bruno Mattei, auteur of Emanuelle In Prison, Violence In A Women's Prison and numerous other todger-friendly sleaze items, for some reason there's none of that sort of thing going on here.

There's still a bit of blood and gore - Mattei also directed Zombie Creeping Flesh and Rats: Night Of Terror, after all - in The Other Hell: mysterious deaths are occurring at a convent, but are they down to human or diabolical causes? Since an early scene has the Mother Superior hacking the private parts off a corpse and shrieking "The genitals are the gateway to hell!", it's natural to assume it's simply a case of insanity, but there's much more to events than that...

Further mysteries: what's with the neatly arranged piles of bones and skulls in the catacombs? And why all the mannequins, naked and suspended from the ceiling in the attic? I actually quite enjoyed The Other Hell: it's free of the tiresome nudity and lesbian gropeathons which have been a staple of this sort of filth for years, and there's a mystery in there that's worth getting interested in as well as touching lightly on the rational/demonic debate (is Satan real or just the evil bit of humanity?) - but only lightly because it soon comes down pretty firmly with the latter, probably because it makes for better horror movies. Modest entertainment anyway, and again it's a shame there's no UK distribution outside of a questionably legitimate YouTube upload. I know there's no real market for it, but it would be nice to access it properly.


Friday, 21 December 2012



It's been a while since I saw anything by the late Joe D'Amato, aka Aristide Massacessi: a man who has no less than 26 credits on the IMDb for 1998 alone - that's a film a fortnight and by the look of it all of them were porn! In fact most of his filmography appears to be adult, either soft (he was responsible for the Dirty Love and Eleven Days, Eleven Nights series of top-shelfers in the late 80s and early 90s) or hard, much of which has not been granted a UK release. Personally I've no interest in those films, but he also had a few stabs at straight genre movies, getting himself on the Video Nasties list with Absurd and the awful Anthropophagus/The Grim Reaper, and ripping off Conan The Barbarian with his brace of so-bad-they're-absolutely-bloody-awful Ator movies.

One particularly repulsive example of D'Amato's horror output is 1979's Beyond The Darkness, aka Buio Omega or Blue Holocaust: an incomprehensible story of murder, necrophilia and cannibalism. Taxidermist Frank loves Anna, and Anna loves Frank, but his housekeeper Iris loves Frank (perhaps because he's vastly rich) and kills Anna by means of a voodoo doll. Frank digs the body up and takes it home in the back of his van, picking up a stoned British tourist hitch-hiker on the way. While she's sleeping off the spliff, Frank disembowels Anna, chucking guts and organs into a bucket, and starts eating her heart; the hitcher bursts in, so he rips out all her fingernails before killing her. But then Iris turns out to be in on it as well, putting Anna's body in Frank's bed and helping to dispose of the hitcher's body in a bath of acid...

And it keeps going: a morbid black farce with corpses hidden in the wardrobes, cops looking for a missing jogger, Anna's twin sister turning up, a private detective snooping around, Iris planning her wedding to Frank....It is entirely senseless: at no point do these hideous people bear any recognisable resemblance to real people or indeed what you'd expect of people in a horror movie. In addition, it's genuinely revolting with the artless gore sequences and Cinzia Monreale spending most of the movie playing dead and being manhandled by charmless lead Kieran Canter; it's perhaps hardly surprising that this truly icky film has been lost to British audiences. It did have a VHS release back in 1989, but nearly ten minutes shorter than the version some kind but demented soul has uploaded to YouTube.

It's quite clearly not very good; in fact much of it is laughable. And yet, despite the crassness and utter disregard for logic, Beyond The Darkness is oddly fascinating and almost endearing: you rather end up wishing Joe D'Amato had made more horror films instead of endless porno. It's better shot than a lot of, say, Jess Franco movies (D'Amato was also his own DP, billed under his real name), and there's a Goblin score which has some nice moments but isn't one of their best soundtracks. Glad to have seen it, but more in the sense of ticking off another notorious gore semi-obscurity from decades past than deriving much in the way of entertainment from it.


Thursday, 20 December 2012


Having sorted out the plums from 2012's cinematic crop, we're left with the duffs. Every year brings a rich crop of utter drivel and they haven't spared us this time: once more there are plenty of terrible movies to pick from. And that's after I'd filtered the most likely candidates out by not going to see them in the first place, so there's no Jack And Jill, no Project X, no Paranormal Activity 4 on the list. Life's short enough: even if the Mayans got it all wrong and I've got another forty years to go, I'm still not going to waste 90 minutes on a dickless cretin like Keith Lemon.

Yes, really. Probably since Existenz, I've slowly stopped being a David Cronenberg fan. Like Woody Allen, I much prefer the early gloopy/funny ones (I saw Shivers again the other week and it's still great), and I was bored senseless by this impenetrable, possibly allegorical and deliberately inaccessible film of Robert Pattinson's meaningless odyssey. It makes his other 2012 release, A Dangerous Method, look like Lethal Weapon.

This wasn't the film that finally convinced me that the found footage technique has no value whatsoever - that was Evidence - but it illustrates the format's drawbacks perfectly. Never mind that it's unwatchably shot and acted and edited, it's the pathetically shoddy pretence of "reality", and the fact that it can't sustain the deception. In this insulting instance, so-called director William Brent Bell cannot even be arsed to provide an ending.

Middle Eastern whackjob despots should surely be a rich seam of satirical comedy, but Sacha Baron Cohen far seems more interested in desperate bad taste gags about wanking and abortions and child rape. Even by the standards of Borat, Bruno and amoebic dysentery, it's shamefully unfunny.

This really should have been better. I don't give a toss about fidelity to the comics: if I want the comics I'll read the comics. Plotwise it's not dissimilar to The Raid but it's not nearly as much fun, it's ludicrously overviolent, it's devoid of spectacle (much of the time it's devoid of light) and it's absolutely impossible to care. For all that was wrong with it (such as the presence of Rob Schneider), the Stallone film is immeasurably superior in every regard.

Hardly anyone saw this one: it got a tiny release back in February and I only caught it on DVD some months later. A cheap, flatly made and mostly dull romantic drama about a nerd who invents a blood-powered car (Little Chopshop Of Horrors) and then has to kill people to keep driving....and then ten minutes from the end decides to pointlessly murder some children and throw a baby into the car engine. Tacky and charmless.

Wanted to like it so much, as I liked Metropolitan all those years ago, but within half an hour there wasn't a character I didn't want to see strangled. All of you: just shut up and stop being so tiresomely self-important (like I can talk). Plus it's got dance sequences in it, for goodness' sake.

*bangs head on desk until the pain goes away* Honestly, you've got Sarah Douglas and Steven Berkoff and Robert Englund and THIS is what you came up with? Really? Go away. It's rubbish.

Originally screened at Frightfest 2011 but only given a minimal theatrical release this year for no earthly reason other than to publicise the DVD, it's a mean-spirited and artless affair with shoddy CGI gore and a roster of characters Amnesty International wouldn't give a shit about.

Dickheaded bromcom in which a pair of top CIA wankers use the colossal might of the American intelligence services to see who can hump Reese Witherspoon first. I'll defend Joseph McGinty Nichol's Terminator Salvation, but I won't defend this: it's beyond despicable.

Hell, if Michael Bay can throw away a quarter of a billion dollars on more than two hours of flagwaving and things going wallop bang thud kerpow and characters so cardboard they have to be propped up with a stick, why shouldn't Peter Berg? Working out whether it's significantly better or worse than Transformers 3 is like working out which testicle you'd prefer to have slammed in the door of a Ford Focus.

Other awful movies, whether just shoddy trash or well-intended failures, that didn't make the list include, in no particular order: 21 Jump Street, J Edgar, A Fantastic Fear Of Everything, Piranha 3DD, Ted, The Watch, Deviation, House At The End Of The Street, The Master (yes, sorry about that) and Elfie Hopkins. Let's hope (assuming the Mayans weren't talking through their hats) that 2013 is better.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012


It's that time of the year again: it's Top 10 Best Films Of The Year time, and happily 2012 offered plenty of decent films to pick from. As usual, I didn't see everything and it's entirely possible (though unlikely) that the ten very best movies of the year were all the ones I decided to pass on, either on the grounds that they looked a bit rubbish, or they were made by people with an established track record in rubbish. Not naming any names, but Adam Sandler had two films out this year and unless someone is willing to put lumps of cash in my hand upfront, I'm staying at home. Another reason for missing many films was simply that they weren't given decent distribution: three afternoons at the ICA might count as a release technically, but it doesn't give us mere plebs in the provinces much of an opportunity to see them.

The sole criterion for inclusion is that the film had a UK cinema release that commenced between Jan 1, 2012 and December 31, 2012, and for reference I go by their inclusion on the Launching Films website. Thus, despite it being a genuinely wonderful film, The Artist is ineligible because the distributors actually opened the film in one West End screen in the dying days of 2011 and the rest of the country (including me) didn't get to see it until January. Festival screenings don't count.

Enough blathering. The list:

In the wake of the original Millennium trilogy (though decidedly not David Fincher's awful Dragon Tattoo tribute act) and BBC4's screenings of The Killing etc, Scandinavian crime mysteries have become something of a cultural zeitgeisty thing, and this thoroughly enjoyable Norwegian murder/crime thriller gripped throughout despite a not especially sympathetic hero and a few thoroughly icky moments, specifically that bit in the outside toilet. Great fun.

Of Mars. Possibly the year's most critically underappreciated movie, and probably the year's most undeserved financial failure. Personally I thought it was terrific: a romping old-fashioned and genuinely entertaining space epic with action, spectacle, monster attacks and a bit of romance. That it was greeted with derision and apathy saddens me.

I usually pass on the CGI digimations because I'm no great fan of celebrity-voiced cartoon animal knockabout, but Pixar's latest might well be their best yet and a new standard of excellence. A beautiful and stylishly animated "once upon a time" fable with a spirited heroine and no pop culture jokes (or talking horses): truly entrancing.

You could argue that Daniel Radcliffe is miscast as he's really too young, but I didn't have too much of a problem with it. Making audiences jump and creeping them out numerous times is phenomenally difficult, and this is a proper horror movie that really should have been left as a 15 certificate. Even in a cut version it's satisfyingly scary for grown adults, but too intense for the tots. Which is as it should be.

It's Turkish, it's 159 minutes long and almost nothing happens. Yet it's engrossing pretty much the whole time, and the landscapes (which we see a lot of, even at night) are as breathtaking as those in John Carter or The Hobbit. There are films half as long that can bore the hind legs off a Queen Anne chair. It's my favourite foreign language film of 2012.

Hands down the scariest horror movie of the year: a proper boxer-browner of the type we just don't see often enough and the most jump-boo-aaargh! frightener since Insidious. The best film on show at this year's FrightFest. Loved it.

Everything they messed up in Quantum Of Solace has been fixed here, and the result is a terrific Bond movie with action sequences you can follow, far more of a sense of humour, a colourful villain and, at last, the end of M as a caricatured mother figure. Probably the best in the series for the last 20 years.

Effortlessly gripping, immaculate period detail not just in terms of shirts and beards but film-making style, genuine thrills and true tension: that it's based on a ridiculously implausible (but true) story doesn't detract from the excitement. You won't breathe for the last twenty minutes. More mature, proper, intelligent films for grownups, please.

I love its look, I love its ambition, I love Rapace and Fassbender doing sterling work. Was it perfect? No. Could it have done with a better score and three or four underexplored characters fewer? Absolutely? Does it all make watertight logical sense? Nowhere near. Does any of that matter? No. Ridley Scott is back where he belongs. I went to see it twice; that's how bloody good it is.

The best ironic deconstruction of horror iconography and cultural genre archetype you'll see all year. A horror movie about the genre: a delicious exploration and explanation of traditional horror tropes and stock characters that morphs into a delirious monster frenzy with the best and (if you were careful with your Twitter feed) most unexpected ending of the year. A Work Of Genius.

Not quite making the cut: a second raft of films, numbers 11-20, if you will but in no particular order: The Innkeepers, The Iron Lady, Total Recall (shut up, I liked it), Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Moonrise Kingdom, Marvel Avengers Assemble, Looper, Hara-Kiri: Death Of A Samurai, Grabbers and [Rec] 3: Genesis, all of which were either perfectly decent or better. Here's hoping 2013 has a similar calibre of material.

Friday, 14 December 2012



Length should absolutely not be an issue with movies. From this year alone Skyfall, Hara-Kiri: Death Of A Samurai and Once Upon A Time In Anatolia are all hugely satisfying films, and they're all substantially over two hours long. Just because something's only 85 minutes including credits doesn't mean it's any better than another film that needs another hour to tell its tale. Equally, of course, taking 160 minutes is no automatic barometer of worth. The best films find their own ideal length. Overlength, however, is a serious matter and this overlong-awaited return to Middle Earth really doesn't need to take 169 minutes to get about a third of the way into a 350-page book. I know Peter Jackson doesn't like to skimp, and I'm happy with the insane amount of padding in King Kong simply because it's such glorious padding, but the three Lord Of The Rings movies sadly tend towards a plod because Jackson wouldn't trim them down at all (and that's just the standard versions, never mind the extended cuts). That this film is just the first part of another trilogy based on a much slimmer source novel suggests there's a lot of plod to be had here as well. And indeed there is.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey links back to the Lord Of The Rings trilogy not just by including several familiar characters (Saruman The White, Galadriel, Elrond) but framing the whole thing as a reminiscence by Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) of the time when, as a young hobbit (Martin Freeman) he was pressed into service as a burglar by Gandalf (Ian McKellen). The task: to aid a dozen dwarfs whose homeland had been left in ruins by the gold-hungry dragon Smaug: the dwarfs are on a quest to take back their treasure and their kingdom under the Lonely Mountain. The arduous trek is peppered with spectacular encounters with trolls, orcs, stone giants, goblins and Azog The Defiler, long believed dead at the hands of dwarf king Thorin Oakenshield (son of Thrain, son of Thror). But to decode the runic map showing the secret entrance to the Lonely Mountain they must consult the elves of Rivendell: the sworn enemies of King Thorin....

So far, so pointy-eared twaddle. In fact, though needlessly drawn out, some of it is surprisingly good fun, particularly when set against the humourless Rings trilogy: the most obvious example is Sylvester McCoy who turns up as comedy wizard Radagast The Brown, a sort of St Francis Of Assisi figure with bird poo dripping down his face (it's as if his Seventh Doctor went mad and became a tramp). And there's also a lot of funny fantasy names of the "Blagmir, son of Og-Dukhus from the Eastern Kingdom of Splod" variety which it's impossible for any actor to deliver without making it sound dangerously like a spoof. John Carter suffered from this syndrome as well. Matters do grind to a halt, though, when Jar Jar Binks Gollum turns up: the single most annoying character in the whole of the saga, and I readily confess to a muttered "yay" when he finally plummeted into Mount Doom in Return Of The King. Let's hope he spends the rest of the Hobbit trilogy scrabbling miserably around his cave at the bottom of the Goblin Mountain - this is no reflection on Andy Serkis, obviously: it's the character and that bloody voice that grate so much.

On the technical side, it's absolutely fine. Better than fine: the effects are flawless (whether the CGI monsters or the perspective trickery of getting Ian McKellen to look twice as tall as Martin Freeman), the scenery is breathtaking, and the big action set-pieces are as spectacular as you could expect. Howard Shore's score doesn't feel as drab as his scores for the Rings trilogy: I even rather liked the Neil Finn folk song over the end credits, though I could have done without the dwarfs bursting into song near the start. Colour me pleasantly surprised. However: I really needed some more definition of the dwarfs - only three or four have made their individual presences felt thus far, though the others may get their moments in the next two films. And it really needed to be shorter: as with Fellowship Of The Ring, this doesn't have an ending, merely a pause now they're within sight of the Lonely Mountain.

I didn't see it in the controversial new 48fps process, where the film was shot and is projected at 48 frames per second rather than the conventional 24. Advance reports suggested that for all the higher definition, it smoothed everything out and made it look like videotape from the Jon Pertwee era of Doctor Who or a 70s sitcom, and I didn't want my first impression of the film to be coloured by that kind of distraction. (Besides, my local wasn't showing it in 48fps anyway.) Nor did I see it in 3D, and yet again there was little in the 2D print that made you wish you were watching it in 3D - although I will give it a try as it is a new process. On the subject of pointless alternatives: I have no intention of trying it in IMAX or the D-Box shaky chair version: the film's flaws have nothing to do with the photographic or projection processes, and the standard 2D normalvision is perfectly acceptable.

Equally, no amount of expensive gimmickry will hide the huge overlength and portentousness, or the obvious question that plagued LOTR: if there are these huge birds that can carry our heroes away from danger whenever Gandalf summons them, why the hell don't they just ride them all the way rather than clambering over mountains and fighting trolls? Because then you wouldn't have a nine-hour trilogy spread over three years? An Unexpected Journey is a chore, especially at the start when the dwarfs turn up and the film takes a long time to get going; but there is some good stuff to be had and I wasn't nearly as bored as I'd feared. Somewhere in the 169 minutes, there's a cracking 109-minute film trying to get out.


Wednesday, 12 December 2012



You can never understand how studio executives' minds work: decisions seem to be taken on the shakiest of grounds sometimes. In this instance someone's apparently decided to make a werewolf movie on the somewhat questionable basis that 2010's The Wolfman was a huge hit. The Wolfman wasn't any good - possibly due to the studio interference that saw the score replaced and then restored - though it had a terrific Gothic look to it and Benicio Del Toro was ideal lycanthrope casting - but box-office sensation it emphatically wasn't. Either that, or someone heard that the final Twilight movie has some head-lopping gore in it. Whichever way, Universal presumably own the copyright on this hairy old tosh (having started it off with the Lon Chaney Jr version of The Wolf Man), so why not?

In the event, though, Werewolf: The Beast Among Us is pretty bland and uninteresting fare despite plenty of blood, limbs and entrails strewn merrily across the set. A 19th Century Transylvanian village is plagued by werewolf attacks, and not just at the full moon: an elite squad of hard-bitten werewolf hunters turn up to destroy the beast, aided by the village medic's young apprentice. But is the monster one of the villagers, or one of the gypsies camped out in the woods? And can he (or she) control the murderous urges?

It's tolerable enough in a TV kind of way: it feels like a cut-down version of a three-hour miniseries that might, in its longer form, have given us a little background on the eccentric hunters, but it's a long way from the recent The Wolfman (which wasn't great anyway) or Hammer's Curse Of The Werewolf. You really need someone in the lead who looks a bit wolfy to start with - which is why Benicio Del Toro or Oliver Reed were such brilliant choices - but you don't get that here. Instead you get lots of body parts and CGI monster effects, and stabs at traditional werewolf lore, including the "Even a man who is pure in heart...." rhyme, interspersed with romantic soap opera and American accents that don't belong (even though they're no more inaccurate than cut-glass English ones). Missable, despite Stephen Rea and the occasional gloop.





There's a lot wrong with this splashy, ultraviolent tribute to the period martial arts movies made by the Shaw Brothers in the 1970s, and much of it is down to Robert Fitzgerald Diggs, aka The RZA, because he wrote the story, co-wrote the screenplay, directed it, wrote much of the music for it and took the starring role in it. It's certainly terrific to look at, and some of the fight scenes are excessively crunchy, but while it's generally good sadistic fun while it's on, it's a long way from being a classic and, more seriously, it doesn't feel like a Shaw Brothers movie. Rather, it feels more like a Quentin Tarantino pastiche, and that's not just because it's got Quentin Tarantino Presents.... at the start.

The Man With The Iron Fists tells of Thaddeus the humble blacksmith (The RZA) who gets dragged into various clans' schemes to steal a shipment of the Emperor's gold. All he wants to do is leave town with his true love Lady Silk who works at the Pink Blossom brothel owned by Lucy Liu, but Silver Lion has taken over the evil Lion Clan: they want the gold but the true heir has escaped and is hiding in Jungle Village after a fierce fight with Brass Body, who's some kind of a cyborg. Also in town are the Emperor's undercover emissary Jack Knife (Russell Crowe), the Gemini warriors and the Hyena Clan; the gold is hidden under the brothel and the Emperor has sent in his elite Jackal troops to recover it....

Or something like that. It's absolute nonsense, but you don't watch The Man With The Iron Fists for its tightly constructed narrative any more than you watch Shaw Brothers movies for theirs. The action scenes are what count and generally they're pretty good and satisfyingly violent and destructive. They'd have been better if The RZA hadn't chopped them up with random and unnecessary split screen effects: you really need to be on the level of someone like Brian De Palma to pull off decent split screen and The RZA frankly isn't in that league. Nor is he a sufficiently charismatic actor for the lead role. In addition the blood spurts are done with unconvincing GCI rather than actual Kensington Gore and they look awful. Putting modern hip-hop and Wu-Tang Clan tracks over the film also detracts: a real Shaw Brothers movie would be tracked from the De Wolfe Library.

But despite all that I still enjoyed the movie. Russell Crowe's English accent doesn't wander nearly as much as the Barnsley to Dublin round trip it got stuck on in Robin Hood; the production design is fantastic and the melodrama and mayhem are suitably overplayed. And while the tribute act doesn't entirely come off, it's of a piece with Tarantino's exhumation of unfashionable genres of the past. More importantly, it's urging me to put a bunch of Shaw Brothers movies on the rentals queue. The Man With The Iron Fists is a long way from a success, but it's a stylish and honourable failure.


Monday, 10 December 2012



Too many damsels and not enough distress, frankly. This is one of those college campus movies where you're crying out for a mad axeman to leap out of the bushes and start with the headshots: probably too much of a tonal shift from the arch, talky and deeply unamusing character comedy but still not unwelcome. Of course it's not fair to hate a film for not being something it isn't trying to be, but it's perfectly fair to rag on it for what it is when it doesn't work. It's a comedy that isn't funny with a central core of characters you don't want to spend any time with at all and you wish they'd just go away and prattle somewhere else. Obviously I wanted to like it - why bother to watch it otherwise? - but with only a few moments excepted, I couldn't.

That central core of Damsels In Distress consists of three female students (led by Greta Gerwig) at a top-end American college who take a newcomer under their wing: I don't think it's ever revealed what they're studying and indeed the film's nearly an hour through before there's one brief classroom sequence. The rest of the time they run (sort of) a Suicide Prevention Centre where they attempt to dissuade the depressed from doing away with themselves with coffee, doughnuts and tap dancing lessons. Most of the time, however, they talk. Endlessly, on and on and on, about men, sex, relationships, themselves and their narrow, ill-informed, judgemental opinions, all delivered in that strange, unreal, heavily mannered manner. And then there are a couple of dance numbers thrown in out of nowhere, and it stops.

A few moments, peculiar or odd rather than recognisably amusing, break through the endless jabbering: one character is revealed as a member of a religious sect that only practises anal sex, one of the girls maintains a posh English accent for no reason besides having visited London once for four weeks. But they're not enough to make up for the dullness or the crashing self-importance of the four girls. They might be well-intentioned but they're damned annoying and once it became clear that no-one was going under a bus you just had to grit your teeth and wait for [1] someone to slap them or [2] the film to end. And I'm not, generally, in favour of slapping women.

Is it an intellectual piece? Maybe it's so intellectual I just can't grasp it. Maybe the jokes are so devastatingly clever and so subtle that they sailed straight past me. Maybe I'm just not up to the task and should watch Jackass or Latvia's Funniest Home Videos instead. Or maybe, just maybe, it's shallow and irritating. Certainly it's not as good as Metropolitan, Whit Stillman's first film, which was also dry and awkward in its comedy but seemed more likable. I really wanted to like it - I wouldn't have watched it otherwise - but I honestly couldn't.



Friday, 7 December 2012



Perhaps inevitably, there's a lot of top-end cussing in Martin McDonagh's new film: given the liberal use of F and C in the last one, In Bruges, it would probably be unreasonable to expect anything else. Oddly, it has a lower certificate than In Bruges which according to the BBFC's own notes would have received an 18 for language alone, never mind the violence and drug use; have standards changed that much in just four years? I'm not dogmatically opposed to verbal filth in movies - I love Brian De Palma's Scarface - but I can certainly be bored by it if there's too much of it and it's not well used. There is this idea of the poetry of swearing, where it forms part of the rhythm of the speech: 44 Inch Chest staked a claim to this but I'm not convinced by it.

Seven Psychopaths is a self-referential black comedy about homicidal maniacs and to some extent about movies, and it feels like something that should have come out back in the 90s in the wake of Pulp Fiction, when violent and amoral crime comedies like Things To Do In Denver When You're Dead were in cinemas and on the VHS racks. In addition to the bloody violence and flip and cynical humour, this also has a layer of clever-clever Hollywood injokery, as alcoholic screenwriter Colin Farrell struggles with his unfinished (indeed, unstarted) script, also called Seven Psychopaths. His friend, struggling actor Sam Rockwell, works for dognapper Christopher Walken: they've abducted Woody Harrelson's dog and he wants it back. Meantime there's a genuine serial killer stalking Los Angeles....

The idea is that this Seven Psychopaths script is the film we're actually watching: a scene at a party is referred to in dialogue, but never seen, because Farrell never wrote it because his character can't remember it. Lines such as "this would make a great place for a shootout" ultimately refer to the location where the big shootout occurs. Yes, very clever. In addition, it's a cheat of a title since two of the psychopaths are only in it in imagined sequences and two of the other psychopaths turn out to be the same person, so that's down to four psychopaths on the same level of reality as the film. Whatever: there are no dogs in Reservoir Dogs either, and Krakatoa is actually West of Java.

With no-one worth caring about whether they live or die (pretty much everyone's a foulmouthed and unlikeable lowlife), two lead actors I'm not a fan of in Farrell and Rockwell, and nothing roles for the women (Olga Kurylenko has one scene, Abbie Cornish is constantly referred to as "a f***ing bitch"), it's down to the ever-colourful Walken and Harrelson for any entertainment or interest, and endlessly watchable as they are, there's not a lot they can actually do with it. It's not funny, it's not exciting, it's not as clever as it makes out and it's certainly not as good as In Bruges (which I liked but wasn't crazy about).




La teoria de cordes és un marc de recerca activa en física de partícules que tracta de conciliar la mecànica quàntica i la relativitat general. Es tracta d'un contendent per a una teoria de tot (TOE), un model matemàtic independent que descriu totes les forces fonamentals i les formes de la matèria. Postula la teoria de cordes que les partícules elementals (és a dir, els electrons i els quarks) dins d'un àtom no són 0-dimensionals objectes, sinó més aviat línies oscil · lants 1-dimensionals ("cadenes"). That's the first paragraph of Wikipedia's entry on string theory shoved into Catalan through Google Translate, and it makes about as much sense as the sports gambling background of this nonromantic sort of comedy. What are these people doing? It's more than just placing bets, it's to do with manipulating the odds given by the casinos to get a better return. Or something. It makes Inland Empire look like an episode of Pingu.

That's what occasional stripper and wannabe cocktail waitress Rebecca Hall does in Lay The Favorite: she turns up in Las Vegas and immediately gets hired by Bruce Willis to work in his gambling firm, where they're always yelling on the phones and looking at numbers on the screen like they're in the New York Stock Exchange. But his jealous wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) won't let Hall stay: she moves to New York and works for shady bookie Vince Vaughn - which would be okay except that this sort of thing is illegal in New York and their big client won't pay up and he's on parole and the Feds might want to know who his bookmaker is...

I'm not so much of an imbecile that I can't usually grasp the basics of what's going on in a movie set where the laws and the rules aren't the same as in the UK. I can usually follow a movie about baseball or American football even though I'm rarely clear on exactly what's happening. But Lay The Favorite really needed to explain its scams and loopholes much more clearly than it did, if it wanted to interest anyone unfamiliar with the world of sports gambling. It barely even explains what the title means. As a result you're left with a decent cast bickering about something or other - we assume Willis is the good guy because he's against Vaughn and Vaughn is clearly a despicable sleazeball. There are no laughs, there's no real excitement, and ultimately very little point to it.



Monday, 3 December 2012



The first thing we noticed about this movie was that there were no press reviews in the Friday newspapers: it wasn't screened for the critics so if they wanted to review the movie they had to queue up at the multiplex to see it like normal people do. Why? It's usually seen as a sign that the movie stinks if the distributors decide not to let the inevitable collective thumbs down torpedo the movie's box-office chances any further: it's less a question of letting the public see it first and more a question of damage limitation, hoping to get some cash in the bag before word spreads. But all manner of unspeakable crud gets shown to the critics, crud far worse than this efficient if anonymous and thoroughly unremarkable B-movie potboiler: it doesn't make sense. (I don't really care that much: I'm not on the press circuit anyway.) But the real mystery is not why they didn't show it to the press, it's why they're showing it to us. Like the Amanda Seyfried thriller Gone, it belongs more on DVD than in cinemas: there's really no need to trek out to catch it on its almost certainly brief theatrical exposure.

Alex Cross is a Detroit homicide detective with two kids, a third on the way, and a typically nasty murder case to solve: a rich woman tortured to death. But if not for her money, then why? Happily, this is one of those murderers who likes to leave abstruse clues around the crime scene and engage in a battle of wills (if not wits) with the police: the trail leads to a billion-dollar urban renewal programme and the final target looks to be dodgy French financier Jean Reno (wearing a Panama hat that occasionally makes him look like Robert Robinson)....

Possibly the media blackout was intended to stop anyone mentioning that the star, one Tyler Perry, is actually better known (at least in America - the bulk of his work has not been released in the UK) for dressing up as an old woman named Madea on no less than sixteen occasions (if you believe the IMDb). That's not necessarily a bad thing, but this movie is rebooting a character who's been played twice by the great Morgan Freeman so there's precedent to live up to. In comparative terms that's like getting Martin Lawrence to play Shaft: even if he turns out to be brilliant, it's hard to get away from Big Momma's House. Frankly I'm not convinced that Perry is up to the demands of a leading man in an action thriller. Apparently Idris Elba was attached at one point and he would certainly have been better: he has presence and charisma and Perry really doesn't. Both of Freeman's outings in the role are far better: Along Came A Spider in particular is twaddle but every time I find it lurking on one of ITV's digital channels I usually have to watch it to the end.

This one is directed by Rob Cohen: perfectly professionally, but if you didn't know this going in there'd be nothing in the movie to tell you until his credit came up at the end. It's got a decent enough supporting cast (Cicely Tyson and John C McGinley turn up) and is mostly watchable enough in a Friday night throwaway thriller kind of way, although the climactic confrontation between Cross and the killer is shot in fast-edit wobblicam that will probably induce motion sickness if you're in the front three rows. But sadly it's never better than okay, never more than watchable. A sequel is supposedly in the works.


Saturday, 1 December 2012



There's a little bit of comedy gold in this film that, in an alternate universe, would lead to a terrific BBC sitcom, but it doesn't involve any of the nominal quintet of star names. It doesn't revolve around downtrodden art curator Colin Firth, yeehawing Texas rodeo girl Cameron Diaz or multizillionaire media bastard Alan Rickman, or gentleman forger Tom Courtenay (formerly of the King's African Rifles) or even art expert Stanley Tucci and his comedy German accent. Sadly, bafflingly, the comedic gold actually belongs to two hilariously snooty receptionists at the Savoy Hotel in London played by Julian Rhind-Tutt and Pip Torrens and they're pretty much the best things in the whole movie: the rest of it is frankly a bit mediocre and unremarkable. Amusing, certainly, but not enough.

Though it's uncredited, Gambit is supposedly a remake of the 1967 caper in which Michael Caine and Shirley Maclaine carried out a convoluted heist of Herbert Lom's art treasures; here the basic structure is vaguely the same but all the detail has been changed, and not necessarily for the better. This time Colin Firth wants to hustle his tyrannical boss Alan Rickman with a fake Monet (painted by Tom Courtenay), and inveigles Cameron Diaz in the scheme. As before, the first twenty minutes show the scheme as it should unfold; the rest of the film details how it all goes horribly wrong, with bedroom farce, Japanese stereotypes, dropped trousers, punches in the face, a random appearance of a lion, and awkward comedy swearing.

The last seems particularly misplaced: it makes the film feel like the writers have never set foot in this country, and the cast and director weren't interested in giving it any authenticity at all. In fact it feels as though it's been constructed solely for the American market who neither know nor care what the English language and the English people are really like: it comes across like one of those American sitcom episodes where the cast visit "London, England" and suddenly it might as well be set in Narnia. And that's surprising because it's credited to the Coen Brothers, who frankly you'd expect better of.

Weirdly, the opening credits play against a 60s-style cartoon version of half the plot, so you've already seen a lot of the film before it's even started: an odd decision in a movie based not just on comedy timing but unexpected plot twists. That said, it's still a reasonably amusing romp: Rickman's always fun to watch as the bullying villain of the piece, some of the comedy diversions are funny (especially at the Savoy), and it's certainly better than the unremarkable original.